Global auto makers sold 7,052,000 vehicles in May, up 7.6% from April and an 11% gain compared with year-ago.

The increase in monthly deliveries was the largest in 16 months. It was expected, however, as May 2011’s results were held in check in the aftermath of the March earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan and subsequently disrupted sales and production around the world.

In the Asia/Pacific region, sales climbed 24.0% to 2.92 million units, accounting for 41.4% of all vehicles sold worldwide in May.

Vehicles deliveries rose 16.4% in China, the world’s largest market, to 1.61 million units, good for a 21.8% share of global sales. Growth in Japan spiked 66.4%, on the strength of 394,950 deliveries, giving the No.3 market a 5.6% global share.

Also fueling growth was Thailand, up 107.6% as the country recovers from earlier floods, and Indonesia, up 56.5%.

In North America, where year-ago’s production and inventory were starting to feel the full impact of the Japanese disaster, sales were up 24.3% on a volume basis.

The region’s 1.63 million deliveries accounted for 23% of world vehicle sales in May, the  highest share since August 2009, when the U.S. government’s Cash for Clunkers program pushed demand well above trend.

Sales surged 25.7% in the U.S., giving the No. 2 global market a 19.3% share. Canada rose 18.4% and Mexico was up 16.3%.

In Europe, where struggles with sovereign debt continue, sales fell for the fifth month in a row, down 6.6% compared to with prior-year. The region’s 1.73 million units  accounted for 24.6% of world sales, its smallest share in three months.

The decline was driven by downturns in three of the region’s five largest markets, including Germany (-5.6%), France (-17.3%) and Italy (-17.1%). Deliveries were up 11.4% in Russia and 8.2% in the U.K.

South America sales slid 9.2%, as Brazil, the region’s largest market, saw sales tumble 9.6%, accompanied by a 14.8% falloff in Argentina.

May sales brought year-to-date world vehicle sales to 7.05 million up 5% on year-ago. The global growth rate likely will remain strong throughout the summer, colored by inventory-depleted deliveries, particularly in Asia and North America.

jsousanis@wardsauto.com